Oct 20, 2014
At the American bishops’ fall general meeting last year reporters pressed hard to find signs of the Francis effect. But when the bishops gather next month in Baltimore, the press corps can relax. All they need do now to observe the Pope’s impact on the American hierarchy is take a look at the newly named Archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich.
The surprise appointment of Archbishop Cupich, 65, to succeed Cardinal Francis George as head of the nation’s third largest diocese, the lynchpin of Catholicism in the heartland, was Pope Francis’ biggest and boldest step yet toward reshaping the American hierarchy to his taste.
It’s also been called a comeback for the Bernardin era. Those were the years stretching from the late 1970s until his death in 1996 when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the dominant figure in American episcopal ranks, not only in his Chicago archdiocese but on the national level. Cardinal Bernardin was indeed a man of exceptional abilities, yet those were scarcely halcyon days for the Church.
But this way of viewing Archbishop Cupich’s appointment is probably unfair to him. Instead of linking him to another man in another era, it makes more sense to understand his appointment in light of what Pope Francis says now about the kind of bishop he wants.